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JNI and HKU Journalism launch Opportunity Fellowships

Journalists from Myanmar and Afghanistan join the University of Hong Kong’s Master of Journalism program this month, thanks to a fellowship from the Sydney-based Judith Neilson Institute and HKU Journalism.

Ms Su Myat Mon from Myanmar, and Mr Safiullah Ahmadzai from Afghanistan, were selected as the inaugural recipients of the JNI-HKU Opportunity Fellowships. The fellowships support reporters in countries where independent journalism is under duress. The fellows will undertake a one-year Master of Journalism programme at HKU.

Su Myat Mon (Su Chay), grew up in Rakhine state in western Myanmar. She moved to Yangon to study English where she was selected for a scholarship programme in civic education, sociology and political science.

“That one-year scholarship programme taught by foreign teachers was eye-opening,” Su Chay said. “It was also a turning point in my life and it gave me inspiration to become a journalist.”

Starting her career as an Intern at The Irrawaddy magazine, Su Chay quickly moved into a full-time position at Frontier Myanmar, where her environmental reporting was recognised by The Society of Publishers in Asia. Su Chay previously worked as a correspondent at Agence France-Presse.

Su Myat Mon (left) and Safiullah Ahmadzai (right) arrive
at student dormitory Lee Hysan Hall. Image HKU Journalism

Safiullah Ahmadzai, born in Jawzjan in northern Afghanistan, studied at the Journalism and Mass Communication school of Herat University. Safiullah honed his skills at a local radio station while finishing his studies. After graduation, he joined the state broadcaster as a reporter. When the government fell to the Taliban, he moved to western Afghanistan to report for Voice of America.

Su Chay and Safiullah stood out for their commitment to journalism, their desire to return to report from their home countries and their intention to share the knowledge they gain with others in the field.

Su Chay said the threats of the junta in Myanmar won’t stop her from working as a journalist. She hopes to go to the conflict zones and “be able to report for an international audience what’s really happening.”

“By reporting what’s really going on on the ground, the suffering of people, I hope that we can tell the story to the international community who may be able to help us,” she said.

Safiullah hopes to help rebuild the journalism community in Afghanistan.

“The situation in Afghanistan is not good, especially for journalists,” he said. “Since the Taliban took power, the majority of our journalists and even lecturers at universities have fled the country.”

“I’m still young and I have energy to work as a journalist. After that, I hope I can work as a teacher or a lecturer.”

“The Taliban soldiers, they don’t know the value of journalism and the value of freedom of speech,” he said. “They spent many years in the mountains and many years at war. They were gunmen. Now they came to the cities and they live like other people. Over time, they will change. I think it’s possible to change their mind and revive journalism.”

JNI has worked closely with HKU Journalism for several years on a number of key initiatives, including the JNI Asia Reporting Fellowships.

“I’m thrilled that HKU Journalism is partnering with the Judith Neilson Institute for this important initiative to assist journalists from two places that saw heightened challenges to press freedom in the last year,” said Keith Richburg, Director of HKU Journalism.

“The military coup in Myanmar and the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan were two seminal events that led to the deterioration of media freedom in the Asian region.”

“By bringing two experienced reporters here as JNI Fellows to study for a Masters of Journalism and having them go back to share their new knowledge and skills — we are trying to do our small part to help journalists under duress, and we hope to be able to continue this project and expand it in the future.”

Andrea Ho, Director of Education for the Judith Neilson Institute, said, “We are thrilled that JNI is working with the University of Hong Kong to grant this inaugural chance for two up-and-coming journalists from Afghanistan and Myanmar to invest in their professional practice,”

“Quality journalism is an essential element of civil society, and these two working journalists are striving to contribute to their communities despite working under real duress.”

“Through this scholarship we are confident they will make an even greater difference towards a free press in their home countries.”